Great communication begins at the top and trickles down through the ranks. Good coaches make sure everyone hears the message. Great coaches go a step further to make sure everyone understands the message and lives the message on the pitch.
Team sports are about relationships. Communication is at the heart of coaching. Not only what is communicated, but how it is communicated. Coaches must be master communicators on many different levels
1) As teachers of the game.
2) Setting roles and responsibilities with assistant coaches
3) When helping team members and the collective team to set goals and define expectations.
4) Dealing with administrators
5) In forging working relationships with game officials
6) Caring for the logistics for training, matches, travel
7) Effectively dealing with parents
These are but a few examples of people and groups a head coach must effectively communicate with. It is a continuing process and hopefully one you will strive to improve in throughout your coaching tenure.
An athletic director I once coached under gave me all types of grief because I related to an athlete that it wasn't what a player was saying, but how she was saying it that was causing friction amongst her teammates. He basically said I was full of shit, but never has anyone been more completely 100% wrong than he was. Tone has everything to do with how a message can be perceived and received. The tone of your deliver will directly impact the emotional response your message generates and therefore the efficiency of the delivery of your message. If your tone generates a defensive mentality in the recipient not only might your message not be received, but you might create an entirely different problem to deal with. When the person delivering the message becomes more of a focus than the message itself the relationship is in serious trouble.
That same athletic director was very big on treating everyone equally. This was another area of disagreement between us. I believe in treating everyone fairly. Each player is different and responds differently to various stimuli. Every player coach relationship is different. Therefore the way in which we communicate within each relationship will vary somewhat. Older or more mature players may be able to handle direct criticism far better than younger players, for example. Where we can directly address the quality of decision making with an older more mature athlete it may well be necessary to remain in a teaching, enabling mode with younger less experienced players.
And it should go without saying that how we deal with teenage players will be different than how we deal with adult administrators, officials and parents. Even on the adult level, how we deal with our boss (administration) will likely be different than how we deal with peers and officials which will in turn differ from how we deal with parents.
The common denominator in working relationships is respect.
In regards to respect, yes, every one receives equal measure. The foundational pillars for respect are openness, honesty, sincerity and trust. Respect must be present in our communication with everyone.
Respect is a two way street as is communication. Relationships are not built solely on one's ability to communicate his message to others, but also one the ability to receive input from others graciously and respectfully. Yes, it is true that great communicators are also great listeners. As a head coach you are the de facto leader of the team, but that does not men you are above anyone. If you fail to listen to, consider and value the input of your staff, the players, administrators, referees and even parents, how respectful are you actually being?
One sided relationships are a recipe for disaster. This means communication must be a two way street. You do not have to agree with everyone else, but if you dismiss others opinions out of hand you will find yourself isolated and potentially missing out on information that could be of benefit to you and your team.
The buzzword for what we are now talking about is a communication block. We tend to be very aware when somebody we are addressing throws up a communication block. Inattentiveness or failure to make and maintain eye contact. The rolling of eyes as you speak. Someone speaking while you are speaking. These are examples of communication blocks.
There are other examples to be considered as well.
When a player and or parents wish to speak with you about team issues chances are strong that it is because their perception of things differs from your own. You may find yourself discussing subject matter where a common base of knowledge is not present forcing you into a teaching role before the actual subject can be discussed intelligently. In-game execution and playing time issues are examples.
Personality clashes are common in team sports. How often have we heard a coach say "I don't care if you like one another but you will respect one another." The sentiment is well taken, but respect cannot be forced upon someone. Respect is earned by developing trust through open, sincere and honest communication.
Positive communication, even when providing direct criticism, goes a lot further than strict critical negative communication. The "Oreo" or sandwich approach to correcting players is a great means to communicate constructive criticism. Begin by acknowledging a positive then address the mistake before finishing with another positive. Think of it as complimenting something the player or team has done well. Then addressing something the player or team could do better. Finish with a discussion on how the player and team can improve. In all three phases it is important to listen to input as well as provide input, but it is especially critical that this is the case in the third and final stage where improving performance is discussed. Remember, we want communication (two way exchange of information) and not to give a lecture (one-way imparting of information).
The most important lesson to be taken from this article is the value to be found in the exchange of information. Coaches must be opportunists open to using any and every available resource. A one way flow of information is not conducive to learning and growing from a coaching or playing perspective. Everyone in our lives is capable of teaching us something but only if we are interested in learning from them. This is where open, honest, sincere communication with (as opposed to communicating to) others develops, nurtures and maintains trust and in turn benefits everyone allowing each of us to make those around us better. Together Everyone Achieves More is a message about the importance of communicating effectively for the betterment of all.